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Team USA Ducks, Apple Enhances iPhone Experience Tweet This   Forward This

10 September 2013

We spent the afternoon buffeted by the wind as we shot the America's Cup. The Kiwis embarrassed Team USA, which used too big a jib for the wind and made an inexplicable tactical mistake to lose the lead on the third leg. Team USA called off the second race of the afternoon using its one postponement card, so it trails by five races now.

Meanwhile Apple introduced its $99 iPhone 5C in an array of pastels with rubbery skins in contrasting colors and its $199 iPhone 5S in three metal finishes with a 64-bit chip, a motion chip plus a new camera with a larger sensor, bigger pixels, a burst mode, slow motion HD video and a dual flash. And, oh yes, there was that iOS 7 introduction with a new and improved camera app, too.

Oracle. Postponing the second race to practice.

Apple CEO Tim Cook followed the Jobsian keynote formula even if he played the stage like an understudy. You should win a free iPhone for guessing how many times he said "incredible" and get a two-year contract free if you also guess the number of times he said "amazing." Toss in some Apple stock if you got Phil Schiller's numbers on that too.

And count your blessings nobody said "iconic."


If you missed the America's Cup race, you didn't miss much. But the keynote is worth an hour. The new OS and phones are succinctly described and dramatically demoed.

In addition to the keynote, Apple has also posted a page on the iPhone 5S's iSight camera and its software tricks (including what looks like Nikon's old Best Shot Selector). There's also a gallery of unretouched iSight photos that includes the full resolution images.

iPhone 5S Dahlia. In 5C pink.

We ran ExifTool on the dahlia, dahlias being in the news lately. Interesting stuff. Here's the full report.

The short version is that the 2.0-MB full resolution image was taken at f2.2 with 1/2740 second shutter speed and ISO 32 at a 35mm equivalent focal length of 30mm. Which makes a lot of sense (and is pretty much what we were doing with our dahlias Sunday). Shoot wide open for a shallow depth of field with a low ISO to minimize noise and as fast a shutter speed as you need to get a good exposure.

We wonder how many digicams would set exposure that way in Program mode. Oh, notice there's no Program mode on the iPhone camera? "We believe that technology is at its very best, at its most empowering, when it simply disappears," Jonathan Ive, Apple senior vice president of design, explained.


Pundits always seem to be impressed by smartphone cameras for some reason. But once in a while, you find a more thoughtful appreciation. John Gruber at Daring Fireball wrote:

The camera is seriously upgraded. The slow-motion video mode is simple and fun and the burst mode for stills is terrific. When you take a burst batch, after you pick which one (or ones) you want to keep, you can delete the remainder of the burst batch in one action. So you can take 30 photos in a three-second burst, pick two and delete the other 28 all at once. Seems perfect. With no hyperbole, I think Apple is gunning to obviate the point-and-shoot camera industry. They're on the short end of the stick when it comes to optics -- the iPhone camera is small and size (lens, length, sensor) matters in photography. But they're working wonders on that end and when it comes to software, I don't see how traditional camera companies like Canon, Nikon and Fuji can compete.

Zoom matters too, at least to the guys shooting the America's Cup. There was a preponderance of big glass and more tripods than we've seen outside a convention hall. In fact, it was an impressive display of gear.

Software is another matter, though.

Schiller explained that not everybody needs all that glass and filters and tripods. Some people just want to take a nice photo. And iOS 7 is here to help.

The new camera app makes a series of evaluations as you compose your image and does a lot of post processing right after you press the shutter button. The gestural interface makes it simple to navigate your images, even to bunch a year of them into a wall of thumbnails, which the Retina display can still help you distinguish enough to scrub through.


But perhaps the most inspiring moment of the keynote was when Cook said Apple doesn't just pack features into its products. "Instead we think deeply about what kind of experience we want to create," he said, "and then create technologies that enable that experience."

Let other companies talk about specs like screen size or megapixels. Apple focuses on the experience (like shooting photos with your phone) and thinks up new ways to make it better (like the dual flash that after an analysis of the white balance of the scene picks either the warm or cool filtered flash).

It helps enormously that it both designs the hardware and writes the software because it can control the entire experience. No excuses.

And that's fun to watch. At keynotes and in the palm of your hand.

It's such a relief from the camera beat, frankly, in which each new model announces some tweaked feature or another and each hands-on review (what other kind is there?) bemoans yet another confused menu system. Camera hardware and software get along like a divorced couple. And that's not fun to watch.

Apple isn't going to invent a mirrorless camera or challenge the dSLR world. There weren't many iPhones at the America's Cup. But it is building the smarter camera Kodak CEO Antonio Perez argued for in 2006. Phones would be real cameras, Perez also said then, as good as any point-and-shoot.

Kodak may no longer have a boat in that race but Apple is sailing like Kiwis.

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